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Making Incremental Progress in Becoming Stronger

November 27, 2005

So, we convince you to go join a gym and change your life-style; what’s going to produce the best results in the least amount of time? Everybody’s in a hurry – not the right attitude! You need to adopt a mentality of SAVORING the workout. This is not a ‘do it for 6 months until I’m fixed thing’, it is an incremental process of improvement. The idea is to get progressively stronger as life moves along. The goal is to FEEL progress on a continuing basis. That feeling changes everything else in your life for the better – it makes everything seem doable.

Now, this takes a bit of self-deception! Here is why. If you decide that for every chest workout you are going to raise the weight by 1 pound in the inclined dumbbell press, sooner or later you will be unable to continue, or rip a pec muscle or get sick, etc. And you know with absolute assurity that at some point you will have to back down, ease off, give it a rest. So the secret is to ‘periodize’ your effort.

All successful bodybuilders, and we should imitate them in this regard, periodically drop their effort dramatically and ‘start again’. When you make a point of this as a matter of discipline, it doesn’t feel like LOSING. So every 6-8 weeks you drastically cut back, change the exercises, and begin the assault on a new personal best for, let’s say, a 5-rep max in the squat. You push yourself higher in weight each ensuing week until you feel the plateau coming, and then you go for the big one on the last set and see if you can best yourself this time around. The deception is this: even if you don’t make a new personal best, your body is tricked into this sense of having made steady progress for 6-8 weeks, and your brain logs that in as a good thing. It pumps out endorphins to make you feel good, and everything else goes better.

Now, you can’t do that for every exercise in your workout, you have to pick the one or two exercises for this cycle that you will strive for and let all the other moves be secondary. I like to use the compound moves that power lifters use (the squat, deadlift and benchpress) as the target for progress because they are the big anabolic triggers that jumpstart testosterone production. I won’t try for a max benchpress each time I cycle that move; it’s inclined dumbbell press on one cycle, declined benchpress on another and flat bench another and maybe flat bench with dumbbells another cycle. For legs, I will do inclined leg press one time (the pictures above are from my last cycle toward a max) then switch to the squat, then maybe to Smith Machine squats, then to hack squats (I hate hack squats). The last time I made 4 reps with 8 plates/side on the incline leg press was over 10 years ago. I thought about trying it for the photos, but the image came into my mind of my wife’s face with a REALLY annoyed look if I was laid up for Christmas. I decided to try it next year.

Good Living – Frank

Frank Wilhelmi
Frank Wilhelmi

Frank Wilhelmi – Retired/consultant electronic engineer researches and reports practical strategies for optimizing health and fitness into advanced age. “I have a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping others to do the same.” A rapidly growing body of knowledge now enables us to extend our health and fitness decades beyond popular expectations.

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